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Monday, October 26, 2009

There's nothing on Tom's plate (so what else is new?)

We had a bit of a scare yesterday evening when my daughter threw up immediately after finishing dinner at a hot pot 火鍋 restaurant, and then a couple of more times after we got home. A trip to the emergency room at the city hospital and an examination in the Pediatrics department, followed by a diagnosis of a stomach bug (probably brought on by the start of a cold) and some medicine being prescribed did much to alleviate our worry, as did the relatively peaceful night's sleep enjoyed by Amber last night. Once again, I was left to admire the efficiency of Taiwan's national health insurance system (in and out of the ER in under an hour, at a total cost to us of NT450 - that's $15 or ¥1280), and wonder why can't a:) more of Taiwan's social systems be run this well; and b:) America get its act together, and join the rest of the developed world in setting up a universal system of health care coverage for all its people?

I don't want to get started on the likes of Glenn Beck or Rush Limbaugh, not when I have the latest Tom Plate commentary on my screen at the Japan Times ジャパンタイムズ website. "Paranoids feast on China's 'peaceful rising'" is the usual Plate offering - seemingly even-handed, but lacking in-depth research and supporting facts, with a conclusion of such naivety that's hard to believe Plate has a doctorate (he's on leave from UCLA):

"Paranoid people tend to live longer, goes the old joke. And so it is in this spirit only — not out of a desire to engage in Cold War China-bashing — that we raise concerns about China. So here's the paranoid's question: Just what is China really up to? The facts are as follows. In parallel with its astonishing and commendable economic rise, China has put together new military architecture that's enough to give one shivers. Of course, the rising military syndrome is hardly unique to China. By and large, economic growth and military buildups go hand in hand."

From the beginning, Plate makes clear that he doesn't believe China's military build-up and modernization is a threat. If he did, it's doubtful that he would label those who do as being "paranoid", and engaging in "Cold War China-bashing". After all, India is doing it too, as Plate mentions in the next paragraph:

"...even India has been sharpening its sticks and buying all sorts of military stuff. And this is in the historic land of Gandhi. It is rapidly lathering on layers of military muscle as its economy continues to upsurge."

Naturally, however, Plate doesn't mention that one reason India is upgrading its military capabilities is the threat it feels is coming from China, which has been making claims on Indian territory in Arunachal Pradesh, as well as being a long-time ally of India's rival, Pakistan. In fact, Plate makes no mention of Chinese claims to any other nation's territories, with one exception - Taiwan. There are no references to the Spratly Islands, the Paracels, the Senkakus 尖閣諸島 or the East China Sea 東シナ海:

"This bustling offshore island (Taiwan), in the daunting shadow of the colossus of China's mainland, is becoming more paranoid than American turkeys approaching Thanksgiving. It is particularly alarmed about the increase of short-range missiles pointed at them — now said to be close to 1,500. That's roughly one Chinese missile for every 23 square kilometers of Taiwan's turf. And while China's missile count continues to mount, tiny Taiwan's territory does not. From a paranoid's perspective, this is not restful. Thus, a recently released report from Taiwan's Ministry of National Defense 中華民國國防部 claims that China's buildup has even gotten to the point where it is capable of deterring the intervention of other foreign militaries — such as America's or Japan's — were it to go to war against the island. It must be noted that Beijing considers Taiwan an integral part of China, and from its perspective any use of force on its part would be an internal political matter, not an outside act of aggression. But legal niceties aside, the overall regional balance of military power may in fact be at the tipping point."

So by Plate's own admission, there are a lot of missiles pointed at Taiwan; Taiwan doesn't pose a threat to China; and the buildup is reaching a point where it could theoretically deter the US or Japan from coming to Taiwan's assistance. He even quotes a RAND Corporation study that pretty much says the same things. And yet, he still feels this is all paranoia:

"China's government constantly proclaims a policy of 'peaceful rising' even as it enlarges its international space economically and diplomatically. At the same time the Taiwan people have elected a government committed to peaceful negotiations with the mainland over the political future of Taiwan, specifically voting out the government that had been aggressively committed to Taiwan's formal independence. So the paranoid's question is simple: If the mainland's peaceful and bilateral relations with Taiwan are now so reasonable and promising, why is China barging ahead with its arms buildup as if there's no tomorrow?"

Yes, why? And Plate's solution?:

"...a single spark of doubt about the sincerity of China's peaceful intentions could ignite a wildfire of fear and suspicion that could unnecessarily complicate its life and return world politics to a binary state of neo-Cold War. So, how about, for starters, Beijing removing a few hundred of those missiles aimed at little Taiwan as a gesture of its true personal warmth (and aim them nowhere else)? This at least could allow some of the world's internationally oriented paranoids to finally get some rest — until the next paranoid crisis, of course."

It's all so simple, and all so unlikely to happen, of course. China's military posturing vis-a-vis Taiwan gives it great leverage (along with growing economic interdependence) in negotiations with an ever-more-amenable KMT 中國國民黨. Why would Beijing be willing to turn down the heat, when the grand prize of Taiwan is getting closer to its grasp? To quote a hoary cliche (or a Nirvana lyric), "just because you're paranoid, doesn't mean they're not after you". It's almost as hard to understand why people like Tom Plate seem so trusting of China's intentions despite plenty of evidence to the contrary as it is to try and figure out why a significant number of Americans want to deny health care to a large segment of their fellow citizens. Here in Taiwan, I'm covered - by both the health insurance system and Chinese missiles!

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